The following list of publications details our work related to understanding changes to sea ice, including our efforts to reduce uncertainty in global climate model projections of sea ice albedo feedback.
Arctic sea ice has decreased substantially over recent decades, a trend projected to continue. Shrinking ice reduces surface albedo, leading to greater surface solar absorption, thus amplifying warming and driving further melt. This sea-ice albedo feedback (SIAF) is a key driver of Arctic climate change and an important uncertainty source in climate model projections. Using an ensemble of models, we demonstrate an emergent relationship between future SIAF and an observable version of SIAF in the current climate’s seasonal cycle. This relationship is robust in constraining SIAF over the coming decades (Pearson’s r = 0.76), and then it degrades. The degradation occurs because some models begin producing ice-free conditions, signalling a transition to a new ice regime. The relationship is strengthened when models with unrealistically thin historical ice are excluded. Because of this tight relationship, reducing model errors in the current climate’s seasonal SIAF and ice thickness can narrow SIAF spread under climate change.
The Arctic climate is changing rapidly1. From 1979 to 2006, September sea-ice extent decreased by almost 25% or about 100,000 km2 per year (ref. 2). In September 2007, Arctic sea-ice extent reached its lowest level since satellite observations began3and in September 2008, sea-ice cover was still low. This development has raised concerns that the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in late summer in only a few decades, with important economic and geopolitical implications. Unfortunately, most current climate models underestimate significantly the observed trend in Arctic sea-ice decline4, leading to doubts regarding their projections for the timing of ice-free conditions. Here we analyse the simulated trends in past sea-ice cover in 18 state-of-art-climate models and find a direct relationship between the simulated evolution of September sea-ice cover over the twenty-first century and the magnitude of past trends in sea-ice cover. Using this relationship together with observed trends, we project the evolution of September sea-ice cover over the twenty-first century. We find that under a scenario with medium future greenhouse-gas emissions, the Arctic Ocean will probably be ice-free in September before the end of the twenty-first century.
We show that intermodel variations in the anthropogenically-forced evolution of September sea ice extent (SSIE) in the Arctic stem mainly from two factors: the baseline climatological sea ice thickness (SIT) distribution, and the local climate feedback parameter. The roles of these two factors evolve over the course of the twenty-first century. The SIT distribution is the most important factor in current trends and those of coming decades, accounting for roughly half the intermodel variations in SSIE trends. Then, its role progressively decreases, so that around the middle of the twenty-first century the local climate feedback parameter becomes the dominant factor. Through this analysis, we identify the investments in improved simulation of Arctic climate necessary to reduce uncertainties both in projections of sea ice loss over the coming decades and in the ultimate fate of the ice pack.
Low-level temperature inversions are a common feature of the wintertime troposphere in the Arctic and Antarctic. Inversion strength plays an important role in regulating atmospheric processes including air pollution, ozone destruction, cloud formation, and negative longwave feedback mechanisms that shape polar climate response to anthropogenic forcing. The Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument provides reliable measures of spatial patterns in mean wintertime inversion strength when compared with available radiosonde observations and reanalysis products. Here, we examine the influence of sea ice concentration on inversion strength in the Arctic and Antarctic. Correlation of inversion strength with mean annual sea ice concentration, likely a surrogate for the effective thermal conductivity of the wintertime ice pack, yields strong, linear relationships in the Arctic (r = 0.88) and Antarctic (r = 0.86). We find a substantially greater (stronger) linear relationship between sea ice concentration and surface air temperature than with temperature at 850 hPa, lending credence to the idea that sea ice controls inversion strength through modulation of surface heat fluxes. As such, declines in sea ice in either hemisphere may imply weaker mean inversions in the future. Comparison of mean inversion strength in AIRS and global climate models (GCMs) suggests that many GCMs poorly characterize mean inversion strength at high latitudes.